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Fix devolution to give Kenyans better future

By Ndung'u Wainaina | December 17th 2020 at 00:00:00 GMT +0300

Kenya has industrious, optimistic and innovative people. Its future is pegged on devolution and a strong economy whose private sector drives productivity.

After the multiparty and new Constitution struggles, Kenya’s next challenge is delivering effective devolution for inclusive human development, guaranteeing economic security and quality service for all Kenyans, and equity. Counties are the new frontiers of wealth, job creation and inclusive economic growth.

After seven years of devolution, counties have become the launch pads for economic development, agricultural and industrial transformation; centres of innovation, private sector growth and services delivery.

Devolution enables people to tap their unique potential and prioritise local needs away from the centrally controlled economy, security and governance.

Devolution has not only improved the economic and social welfare of people in rural areas, it has, to a great extent, increased the democratic space. The primary national conversation is the devolution of resources and power, economic democracy and freedom, and tackling inequities.

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Since devolution started, the national executive and its agencies have exercised undue power leverage against the county governments.

These include delaying or slashing their revenues, enacting recentralisation laws and administrative policy actions and finance policies that undermine deepening of devolution.

Most national laws in respect of key devolved functions are largely not compliant with the Constitution. The critical sectors affected are health, agriculture, public finance, trade and industry, land, physical planning, urban development, natural resource management, water and roads.

These functions constitutionally fall squarely under the jurisdiction of county governments providing key services to local people.  

The 2010 Constitution core principles are inclusion, participation, openness and equity. The underpinning social contract is devolution, public finance, social and economic rights guaranteeing equal society, shared prosperity and public expenditure that promote equitable development across the country. The starting point is comprehensive audit, unbundling and costing of all functions at both levels of government and decisive political actions to restructure, align, rationalise ministries, departments and agencies to align them with the devolved system of government.

This will remove costly duplication of functions and release billions of shillings held by ministries, departments and agencies.

Further, there has to be a full overhaul of national institutions, policies, regulations and laws to bring them into conformity with the constitution and devolution.

County governments must have a voice on key national fiscal, taxation and economic policy decision-making processes. Big budget allocations to ministries, departments and agencies should be reduced significantly as majority of them have a policy and regulatory mandate while counties are responsible for service delivery.

It should be more about counties and less about the national government. In addition, all scattered devolved funds in counties should be consolidated under the County Treasury.  

Democratic institutions at the county and national levels that facilitate intergovernmental relations need to be strengthened to ensure they support devolution and build better constructive engagement and oversight.

National Treasury must be reformed to efficiently serve two levels of government. This will streamline and hasten the process of transferring funds, conditional grants and donor funding to county governments.

Resource assessment

There is need to develop capacity and capabilities of institutions, systems, processes and procedures of the county governments for purposes of sound policy, law and regulation formulation; integrated planning, budgeting and performance management; effective policy execution and quality service delivery.

Counties should conduct comprehensive, transparent audits of County assets, including land and properties and establish digitised open registries for proper planning and future utility.

They should also conduct detailed county-based human resource assessment to harmonise personnel with needs, skills and reduce bloated unsustainable task-forces and wages.

Each county government should establish a County Government Accountability Office to help improve performance, accountability and service delivery. 

-Mr Wainaina is Executive Director, International Centre for Policy and Conflict. @NdunguWainaina


Kenya Devolution Kenyan economy
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